Without warning

as a whirlwind

swoops on an oak

Love shakes my heart

Sometimes ceremony readings are a simple compilation of texts that hold meaning for you, and this is a great way to personalise your service. It can be hard, however, to know where to start- sometimes such texts don’t come to mind at once. We aren’t encyclopaedias of the literature we’ve encountered in our lives. You may have one that comes to mind, but need to search for others to accompany it.


So, a helpful alternative approach is to start by getting sense of the overall direction or arc you want from the ceremony. That way, you can start to generate categories, whether by theme, writer, or era.


For my own wedding, I knew it would be nice to include a pre-1900 poet (preferably a woman and I’m a fan of Christina Rossetti) as well as a contemporary poem to start off with (these can speak to whole audience, no matter their feelings towards poetry) and a less traditional queer poem. With Rossetti, the only sonnets I could think of were about death- not great for a wedding- so I read a wider range of her work, and settled upon A Birthday. I was initially worried it might have been overused until I realised that there was good reason for that, and went with it. It was a nice counterpoise to the others we selected; the queer one was less conventional, to quote our registrar "I’ve never done a wedding with that word in it.” My sister selected that one, and was charged with delivering it.


The first poem- Say I Forgot by Lorraine Mariner- was selected by my wife. Its themes of doubt and commitment, true commitment, sat perfectly at the start of the ceremony. If there’s a reading you love, but aren’t sure if it’s ‘cookie-cutter’ wedding or funeral material, ask yourself why it has occurred to you- perhaps the very challenge it poses makes it the best place the ceremony to begin. Then, take the audience from there, perhaps ending on a reading that suggests an answer or welcomes ambiguity.


This Sappho fragment is an example of a text that opens the audience up to a journey. It offers an insight into the early experience of love, but also speaks to the upheaval of unexpected change, whether that be the end of a life, or the welcoming of a new one. It’s also a queer reading, which is a bonus if, like me, you had little experience of these in your education and later life.